Despite his absence from the Jaipur Literature Festival, Salman Rushdie loomed large on the penultimate day of India's biggest literary event with the State government insisting it reserved the right to decide whether audiences would be allowed to hear the celebrated speaker speak via a video hook-up.
Also on Monday, the groups and individuals involved in the campaign to prevent Mr. Rushdie from coming to Jaipur upped the ante by filing police complaints against four authors — Hari Kunzru, Amitav Kumar, Ruchir Joshi and Jeet Thayil — who read extracts from his banned book, The Satanic Verses, on the opening day of the festival, as well as the festival organisers.
Five complaints against writers
At least five complaints have been filed in Jaipur, and one each in Ajmer and Hyderabad. And hearings have been set for January 24 and 25 in Jaipur and for January 30 in Ajmer, according to Kavita Srivastava, general secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan.
The organisers had announced the holding of a videoconference with Mr. Rushdie, but backtracked, somewhat, citing the need for a green light from the administration. “At this point in time, we are going ahead with the videoconference. We have sought both permission and clarification from the Rajasthan government. Clarification on whether it could be deemed illegal to hold such a videoconference. And permission because we have been told that videoconferencing did not figure on our initial list of demands submitted when we sought permission to hold the festival,” Sanjoy Roy of the JLF told The Hindu. “We are discussing the format of the videoconference with Mr. Rushdie. The police have sought from us the format,” he said.
Speaking to The Hindu, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said he would consult his Home Secretary about whether there was the possibility of a law and order situation developing during the videoconference with Mr. Rushdie and then decide whether to allow the event to go ahead. “We do not know, nor do we have any control over what could be said. There might be persons present there who might cause disturbance. Protesters could gather outside or try to disrupt the proceedings. It is only after consultations with my Home Secretary that a decision will be taken later tonight,” Mr. Gehlot said.
‘Risk to peace'
Earlier, Muslim leaders said they had no objection to the videoconference. However, Engineer Saleem, national secretary of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, told The Hindu that it constituted a risk to public peace and order. “We do not know what Mr. Rushdie is likely to say. He likes to provoke. His recent emails and messages on Twitter have been provocative. It is possible that someone asks a provocative question in the audience and he gives a reply that causes offence. There is a certain risk involved,” Mr. Engineer said.
The Hindu has learnt that the Chief Minister would be willing to give permission if the organisers give an assurance that there would be no provocative questions asked, no exchanges with the public, no dialogue but a simple reading out of a statement.